Chris is a passionate sailor and RYA Yachtmaster instructor who hosts some of our most exciting offshore and ocean crossing adventures on Saga, his Swan 47 yacht. Originally from the historic town of Helsingør near Copenhagen in Denmark, Chris follows in the footsteps of the great Danish seafarers, crossing oceans and discovering new places.
We caught up with Chris and spoke about his passion for sailing, seeing people grow and the yacht with the ‘cooking problem’.
Tell me about yourself
Chris: I started sailing when I was around six or seven years old. My parents put me in Optimist dinghy sailing [small, single-handed sailing dinghies designed for children], and I did dinghy racing for many years. Then, I transitioned to big boats. Every summer we cruised around the Baltic on my parents keelboat, which included Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Germany.
Regarding my professional career, I’m a mechanical engineer by trade and mainly worked in Asia and Africa for many years, which didn’t leave much time for sailing, except for occasional trips with the kids. As you know, as you get older, you start thinking about retirement, and my plan was always to buy a boat and sail around the world.
While in between two assignments, I decided to gain some ocean-crossing experience before fully committing to this plan. I found a boat online that needed to be delivered from Malaysia across the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean. I joined as the first mate for the Indian Ocean leg. It took us seven weeks, including some cruising through Indonesia, with our longest non-stop passage being 16 days.
Upon returning from that journey, I realised I couldn’t go back to a regular job. I needed to find a way to combine my passion for sailing and teaching, as I used to teach scuba diving when I was younger. During my professional career, I focused on management and team building, so I enjoyed interacting with people and helping them grow. I researched how to work in the sailing and teaching industry and found that the British system, RYA (Royal Yachting Association), was highly regarded.
I converted my Danish Yachtmaster to an RYA Yachtmaster offshore [advanced] and became an entry-level cruising instructor, allowing me to teach Competent Crew [beginner-level] and Day Skipper [intermediate] courses. I spent a season teaching in the Solent, UK, and another in Barcelona, Spain. After that, I taught in Singapore for a year, covering basic and Competent Crew courses.
After two years of full-time teaching, I advanced to become a Yachtmaster instructor and started teaching coastal skipper and training Yachtmaster instructors. However, I wanted more variety and adventure in my sailing and teaching. That’s when I decided to purchase our boat, Saga, a Swan 47, a classic boat built for ocean racing. We started doing adventure sailing trips, which typically involved going from point A to point B, exploring new places along the way.
What do you love about sailing?
Chris: I think it all comes down to the fact that when you’re out there, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. You’re incredibly close to nature itself, and everything revolves around the weather and similar factors. Being outdoors, you have the freedom to choose your path, but at the same time, you must adapt to the ever-changing weather conditions. That’s the kind of freedom I cherish, along with the profound connection to the elements.
Why do you like having people on board?
Chris: I think it’s a combination of factors. When I used to teach scuba diving, I found it incredibly rewarding. You’d have people who had never been in the water before, and after four or five days, you’d introduce them to this entirely new world. Watching them grow and have amazing learning experiences was truly fulfilling.
It’s a similar story here; people come on board, have a great time, and we have several repeat customers, so I’m confident we’re doing something right. They have a fantastic time, learn new skills, and I genuinely enjoy being around people, helping them grow. Teaching is something I find very rewarding, and I love being able to provide people with valuable takeaways from their experiences.
What level of sailing experience is necessary?
Chris: We’ve had many people who have never sailed before join us. For them, we take them through the Competent Crew syllabus. Essentially, they start from scratch and become competent and confident crew members. They learn what to do and what to expect, understand commands, and participate in various tasks like helming, handling the sails, cooking, cleaning, and more. Everyone gets involved in all duties.
We’ve had people join us with no sailing experience, even on offshore adventures. For example, there was a celebrity chef who joined us on an adventure from Ramsgate to Gotland, which included four days offshore. She loved every minute of it and has since continued her sailing journey, recently completing her Coastal Skipper certification.
However, for ocean crossings we limit the crew to four, making a total of 6 people on the boat, including myself and a first mate. Typically, we don’t have just 4 entirely new crew members; there’s usually a mix of experience levels. One or two may have limited or no experience, while the others are more experienced.
What is the atmosphere like on board?
Chris: The mood on board is typically positive, and the atmosphere is pleasant. However, it’s important to note that it’s a confined space with 6 people, so there can be some tensions from time to time. But most of the people who come sailing are like-minded individuals. If someone is doing something that bothers others, it’s usually addressed early on. People communicate and let the person know if something is getting on their nerves, like making too much noise or stirring the pot.
Most people are open to compromise because they understand it’s a relatively short duration, typically 9 or 10 days. We haven’t had any significant issues; most are team players who work well in a crew.
What are some of the most amazing experiences you’ve had?
Chris: One of the highlights is when you’re on an ocean passage at night with clear skies, filled with stars and shooting stars. That’s truly amazing. Sometimes, you get the added bonus of dolphins at night, and although you can’t see, because of their biofluorescence, it appears as if they are glowing next to the boat.
It’s really an incredible sight, and just talking about it gives me goosebumps. So, that’s one of the most extraordinary things about offshore and night sailing – clear skies and shooting stars. Even now, with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites passing overhead, they appear like a beautiful necklace of pearls.
Another remarkable experience is making landfall. For example, on a passage from the Western Isles of Scotland to St. Kilda, an island that was inhabited until the 1930s, we sailed about 70 nautical miles. We left in the afternoon, and the next morning, as we approached the island, it was a bit foggy. Suddenly, the island emerged from the clouds, resembling something out of a movie like King Kong’s island.
It was a powerful and unforgettable moment. Making landfall is indeed a very rewarding and special experience, especially after a multi-day passage when you finally see land ahead of you. It’s truly incredible.
Do you have any advice for sailors or aspiring sailors?
Chris: I’d say if they’re thinking about it, just go for it. The most significant challenge, and often the hardest part, is making the decision to give it a try. So, if you’re considering it, take that step. For those worried about seasickness, it’s similar to motion sickness in a car. There are many effective remedies available now, with one of the best being patches that you can place behind your ear. They work well.
In most cases, even if someone experiences seasickness at the beginning, after a day or two, everything tends to settle. As we sail on a passage, after a few days, people get their ‘sea legs’ and adapt to the boat’s motion. By day three, it becomes almost a profound and divine experience for many. That transformation from being a landlubber to becoming an offshore sailor is incredibly powerful, and that’s what keeps people coming back for more.
Tell me about the boat
Chris: The boat is a Sparkman & Stephens design, specifically designed for ocean racing [the company has been designing racing and cruising sailboats since 1929]. We’ve kept it that way, preserving its traditional character. We also teach traditional navigation, and we don’t have a chart plotter at the helm. Instead, all navigation and planning are done below deck at the chart table. This approach is valuable for people learning to skipper because it requires them to plan everything in their minds and have it ready downstairs, which leads to more solid piloting and passage making.
Accommodation-wise, the boat, which is often used for racing and has eight berths, is configured to comfortably accommodate six people. There are two berths in the front cabin, two in the aft cabin, and two pilot berths in the main cabin. Each person has their own bunk and storage space, making it quite spacious for six individuals. The boat’s length is 15 metres, and its beam is 4.2 metres, giving it ample space.
Another advantage of this boat is that it smoothly cuts through waves in a sea state, providing a much smoother ride compared to newer boats that tend to slam into waves. It moves like a train on rails, which is a distinct advantage during offshore passages.
Your trips are working passages, but do people get a chance to relax?
Chris: When we’re on a passage, we operate on a watch system. If we have 3 teams, you’ll be on watch for three hours, followed by six hours off. This provides plenty of time to do various activities. People often bring books or download movies in advance. They can read, watch movies, or study navigation. In some passages, we even practise celestial navigation, using sightings of the sun, moon, and stars to calculate our position. So, there’s more to do than just being on the helm or running the boat. There’s time to relax, read, sleep, and engage in other activities.
We also emphasise the importance of food. We often joke that we’re a sailing yacht with a cooking problem. Good food is crucial, so I encourage crew members to have a signature dish, something they can easily prepare in one pot. Many times, people bring recipes from their home countries, like dishes from South America.
It’s essential to keep the crew well-fed, as a full stomach can make a difference, even in cold weather. We talk about food a lot onboard, and after the trip, people realise how important it is. We can prepare some incredible dishes even in challenging conditions, like cooking curries in big waves. It’s a social activity that brings the crew together. It’s a time when everyone gathers for dinner, creating a sense of community and camaraderie among the crew.
What is the longest passage you’ve done?
Chris: One of our longest passages would be during one of our ocean trips. We start in Tromsø [Norway], which is located above the Arctic Circle. We spend a few days getting the crew familiar with the boat, and then we embark on an ocean passage of nearly 800 nautical miles to the Faroe Islands. It’s a remarkable journey because we also cross the Arctic Circle on this trip. So, people onboard get to experience this unique crossing.
We also offer different types of trips, such as “Sail Hike Explore.” For instance, we have one in the Faroe Islands, where we engage in day sailing, visiting new places daily, and enjoying hiking. Interestingly, the Faroe Islands have a special connection to James Bond – it’s said to be the final resting place for 007, according to the latest movie. They even have a tombstone for James Bond there.
We have similar trips in the Orkney Islands, which are also incredibly remote and offer friendly locals and fantastic hiking opportunities. These trips are designed for a more immersive exploration of the areas we visit.
Chris is one of the friendliest and most passionate sailors we’ve met. There’s a sparkle in his eye when he talks about sailing, discovering new places and seeing others experience the same magic of being on the ocean that made him give up his permanent home and live on his yacht. He’s the kind of guy that you feel safe knowing he’s in charge when sailing on the open ocean, and that you want to hang out with over a warm meal and a cold drink. We are lucky to have him sailing with us.